herald

Wednesday 16 January 2019

O'Dea's chance to shine for Trap tonight

MOST people who have watched his career, on and off the field, reckon that Darren O'Dea isn't just an Irish international of the future, he's also an Ireland captain in waiting.

And tonight, after false starts and close shaves over the past two years, the former Home Farm man will get a chance to finally show that he can deliver on the international stage.

The 22-year-old has bided his time so far -- 24 youth caps, eight games for the U21s -- but the closest he's come to a senior cap was a place on the bench, for games against Wales and Colombia. He's watched team-mates from his underage days with Ireland, such as Darron Gibson, Andy Keogh, Paul McShane and Shane Long, graduate to the big stage and win senior honours, while O'Dea, despite playing in the Champions League for Celtic, had to wait his turn.

"I have been pushing for this, a place in the Ireland squad, for about 18 months now, so it's long overdue but it's good to be here," O'Dea told the Herald at the team's Tipperary training camp before tonight's friendly at Thomond Park in Limerick.

"It's the pinnacle of your career to play at international level. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time and if I can play first-team football regularly at club level, I can push on into the Ireland squad, and hopefully get a game tonight. If I can do well at club level, then the international side of things will take care of itself," added O'Dea.

Facing up to big names is nothing new to the Dubliner: in his eight Champions League appearances for Celtic he's taken on some of the biggest names in the world:Kaka, Seedorf, Gattuso, Pirlo, Inzaghi, Pavlyuchenko, Rooney, Berbatov, Arshavin. And yet for the rest of this calendar year he will be in the second tier of English club football, having moved to Reading on loan until January to gain first team football.

O'Dea had a frustrating start to the new season: he went from the high of captaining Celtic, and a 3-1 league win against Aberdeen, to the low of being benched for the Champions League clash with Arsenal a few days later. And he started just one of Celtic's seven games so far this season before his loan move to Reading -- all this, though, after he had signed a new three-year contract with the Bhoys.

"There has been talk about a loan move for a while so it's good to know that it's finally happened. I know I am in Celtic's plans and they say I have a future there, but I need to be playing now, so that's why I have gone on loan. I want to do as well as I can on loan to Reading, go back to Celtic in the New Year and hopefully get into the team there and play every week. The way we have left it, I will stay there until January and see how things lie there. But Celtic have shown they have faith in me by giving me that long contract.

"I need to improve as a player, get more experience and go back there as a better footballer. Since he came in, the manager (Tony Mowbray) has been fantastic with me. I didn't need to have it out with him over my situation, he was straight with me. We came to an agreement where I signed a new contract so I'd have a future there, but then go on loan so I can get some games in, and it's been a good month for me.

"I have been down to Reading already and trained with them so I have been able to settle in, and I played in a friendly game against Portsmouth last week so that helped as well. It's been good so far and now I justwant to get my debut out of the way.

"The manager, Brendan Rodgers, is a top man and he seems to like me, he tried to sign me when he was at Watford before. I have spoken to him before and though I've only worked with him for a few days, I know I will enjoy playing under him and learning from him."



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O'Dea was part of a famous Home Farm schoolboy side that has already produced a Premier League player (Chris McCann) and a Championship regular (Owen Garvan), while Shane Supple was also making good progress at Ipswich Town before his shock decision last week to quit soccer and return to Dublin.

"I was surprised that Shane walked away from it. I couldn't imagine doing that but Shane knows his own mind and knows what he wants," says O'Dea.

"I have known Shane for years and he's a level-headed guy, he's not a kid of 18 who has made a snap decision. He is determined and has thought this through.

"I haven't spoken to Shane since he came back. I know he played a game for St Brigid's last week but I didn't ring him, he wanted to keep his head down and get back to normal.

"But my dad and his dad are in touch so I'd have an idea what's going on. I know he'll do well in life no matter what he does.

"It's good to see Chris McCann doing well at Burnley in the Premier League and if he keeps that up it's probably only a matter of time before international recognition follows," added O'Dea.

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